Allen Ginsberg on John Donne 1980 Naropa class – Continuing from here
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
Serves to advance an honest mind.
If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
Lives a woman true and fair.
If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
False, ere I come, to two, or three.
“Get with/child a/mandrake/root” – da-ta da-ta ‘ “Tyger, Tyger, burning, bright” – “Go and catch a falling star” – Trochaic meter – the heavy accent first and the light accent later (as distinct from iambic light-heavy) – You all know about… you all know that? Those who weren’t in the class know the difference between iambic and trochaic? Anybody then not? Does anbody else not know the difference? Iambic and trochaic? Does anybody here, beside Peter (Orlovsky)?
Student: I do know the difference.
AG: You do know?
AG: Does anybody not know the difference? – Mike (sic) do you know? Iambic is da-da da-da da-da and trochaic is dada-dada-dada – that is, counting by stress or accent (accent, stress, using the terms interchangeably for the moment) -the heavy stress on the first syllable, the light stress on the second. So that’s trochaic – dada-dada – “Tyger, Tyger – burning-bright” , “Go-and catch-a…” So, if you get to the second stanza – “If thou be’st born..”.. “If thou be’est born..” – (actually, that’s his meter in the back of his head) -“If thou be’est born to strange..” – actually, you would say, “If thou be’est born to strange sights things invisible to see”, so, if you spoke it vernacularly – “If thou be’est born to strange sights things invisible to see, ride ten thousand days and nights”. So then it would fit. In other words, what you.. what we’ve got going on here is a basic pattern of “If-thou be’est-born to-strange..” – “If-thou be’est-born to-strange sights” (which doesn’t fit at all! ) – “to-strange”, “to-strange-sights” (actually, that’s practically an iambic line – “If-thou be’est-born to-strange.. sights” – (well, neither, so he’s mixing it – or he’s running his vernacular.. he’s running the way he would pronounce the line against the original paradigm, the original metrical scheme).
Peter Orlovsky: Is this something like a pro-Crusader poem. What is he… Does he want to ride to Jerusalem?
AG: No, it’s mostly he’s really embittered about love (and most of these poems are, as you may have guessed, if you’ve read them, love poems (and sometimes hate-love poems. love-hate poems, putting down the woman, really getting angry, total curses occasionally, including, saying “I’ll come back and haunt you when I’m dead!” – “if you try and fuck somebody else, I’ll come in there and get you!”)
Peter Orlovsky: Were there Crusades at this time?
AG: No, that’s way after the Crusades. This is.. What he’s saying is.. “You can do all sorts of impossible things before you can find a woman that is true to you”. You’d have to do all sorts of impossible things…
Student: And she still wouldn’t remain true!
AG: Yes. She still wouldn’t remain true. In order to.. You got to “go catch a falling star”,,,
(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-eight-an-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in}